The title of Michelle Malone’s 16th CD, Stronger Than You Think, perfectly describes both Malone and her music.
Malone grew up in Atlanta, began writing songs as a teenager and got signed by the legendary Clive Davis to Arista Records in the early ’90s while still in college, where she went to study voice. “Well, I was in college for partying, I think. I mean, I studied voice, I studied a lot of things, got kicked out twice. The only classes I really made it to were voice, English…and soccer. Gigs were late at night and class was at 8 a.m. Well, you know how that goes.” She laughs easily, the way it seems she does everything.
Malone is the total package. She’s a great singer/songwriter, she plays smoking slide guitar, drums, saxophone, and harmonica. A major label deal should have been just the thing and it was…for a time. “When I got to Arista, they didn’t have a rock department. What they had was great, but it was Whitney Houston and Milli Vanilli. Artista specifically asked me to be something I wasn’t. I couldn’t, so I called them up,” she laughs again, “and told them ‘I quit’. I thought, this isn’t rocket science, I know how to make records.” Malone started her own label, SBS, and has since released 15 CDs.
She’s collaborated with artists like Steve Earle, John Mayer and Marcia Ball, but her friendship with the Indigo Girls goes back over two decades. Malone has Gold and Platinum records for songs of hers they’ve recorded. So will she be opening shows for them when this record comes out? “I think so. We’ve been playing together, writing together and recording together since the ’80s. I’ve probably opened for them 300 times in 20 some-odd years. They call me their satellite member. It’s funny, it’s interesting, and it’s fun…It’s also being the eternal bridesmaid, opening shows,” again her easy and engaging laughter, “but it’s awesome because I get to be in their band as well and sing with them. We’ve been doing it so long that it’s seamless and tight. I just love it.”
With songs in television and films to go along with her 16 releases, Michelle Malone is the kind of writer who is respected in Nashville, New York and Atlanta. I ask what she thinks has made her so well known among critics. “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t feel well known. I feel like I live and exist musically under the radar. I think we’re all just plodding along and you try to top your own personal best every time you write or record. I’m just trying to get better and learn as I go. That’s what keeps me going.”
Michelle Malone will be playing a rare New Orleans appearance at Chickie Wah-Wah April 10 at 8 p.m.